The Minnesota Twins made the playoffs in 2017 and look to have an even better 2018. The Twins won't sneak up on anybody this year, though. With spring training here, we take a look at five questions to ponder about the team as camp begins.
What will the starting rotation look like?
Ervin Santana is expected to once again be the mainstay of the staff, but he had surgery on Feb. 6 which is expected to sideline him 10-to-12 weeks, meaning he might not be back until May. The Twins do have a number of off days in April, so that will help as the team tries to avoid a slot start a la 2016. The only "gimme" for the rest of the staff is Jose Berrios, who went 14-8 with a 3.89 ERA in his first full season in 2017. Kyle Gibson likely will have a spot, but he is coming off a poor year. Phil Hughes returns from injury looking to regain his old form. With Bartolo Colon and Hector Santiago gone, among others, Adalberto Mejia and a bunch of youngsters will battle for any other remaining spots. Trevor May, who missed all of last season, could be in the mix as well, although the bullpen could be his ticket. Of course, there are still plenty of free agents left on the market as well as trade possibilities. This will be the most interesting thing to monitor in the spring.
USA TODAY SportsJake Roth
Who will backup Jason Castro at catcher?
Castro started 104 games at catcher last season, or roughly 2/3 of Minnesota's games. Chris Gimenez started 54 and Mitch Garver four. Gimenez is gone, having signed with the Cubs. Garver is not exactly known for his glove behind the plate, but he does have good pop in his bat (17 HR, .541 slugging percentage at Triple-A Rochester in 2017) and he is the only other catcher listed on 40-man roster. Garver also can play first and outfield, so perhaps Minnesota keeps three catchers, or sends Garver back to the minors and goes with one of the three non-roster catchers in camp: Veteran Brian Wilson, offensively-minded Willians Astudillo or defensive stalwart Brian Navarreto.
What will the back of the bullpen look like?
It's been a while since Minnesota has had a consistent closer -- due to health, inconsistency and trades -- but the Twins made a concerted effort to bulk up the tail end of the relief corps this offseason. Fernando Rodney reportedly was signed as a free agent and has been tabbed to be the ninth-inning man. However, he reportedly did have some struggles in winter ball and will turn 41 in March. While he did post 39 saves for Arizona last season and had a 1.193 WHIP and 10.6 K/9, how much does he have left in the tank? Minnesota does have a Plan B (or a really good setup man) in Addison Reed, who also was plucked from free agency this offseason. Reed has 125 career saves, including 19 with the Mets last season before he was dealt to Boston. Add Zach Duke to the mix, plus a couple of returning players and the potential of future closer Gabriel Moya, and the Twins bullpen could be an area of strength.
Can Tyler Kinley make the roster?
Players selected in the Rule 5 draft are often youngsters who have shown they have a good upside. Minnesota, however, picked Tyler Kinley from Marlins. Kinley, who turned 27 in January, has a power arm and a good slider, but hasn't done well when he's pitched above Class A and has had control issues in the past. However, he also had more strikeouts than innings pitched at every level and had an incredible Dominican League -- allowing just five hits and one run in 19 innings while striking out 32. Is there any room for him in the bullpen, especially on a team that hopes to contend? If not, he has to be offered back to Miami, a rebuilding team which would likely to be glad to have Kinley back.
Will Byron Buxton continue to make the next step offensively?
In his first full season in the majors, Buxton won a Gold Glove for his work in center field. Also for the first time in his three-year career, he wasn't shipped back to Triple-A for work on his hitting. Not that there weren't issues -- he had a slash line of just .216/.288/.306 in the first half of 2017. But he figured things out in the second half, batting .300/.347/.546. Keeping in mind Buxton is still only 24, will this be his breakout season … or was the second half just an aberration?